Listen to Warnings About Work-Related Hearing Loss
It's no secret that manufacturing can be one of the loudest on-the-job environments. Over time, many workers suffer from hearing loss — and once the damage is done, they're at risk for other work-related injuries.
So, it's important for your company to adopt a preventive management program aimed at reducing the exposure workers have to noise.
OSHA has regulations concerning the level and duration of noise in manufacturing plants. Here are some suggestions for reducing your company's liability and protecting your workers' hearing:
Require workers to wear protective equipment, such as earplugs or muffs, that fit properly. "Plain cotton is not an acceptable preventative device," according to OSHA.
Remove hazardous noise from the workplace through engineering controls, such as installing a muffler or building an acoustic barrier.
When you need to buy new equipment, purchase quieter models. Check into retrofitting older equipment with mufflers.
Measure noise at your manufacturing plant to ensure you are in compliance with OSHA's acceptable standards.
Decrease the amount of time that workers spend around loud noises. Rotate workers from noisy to quieter jobs.
Require noise-exposed workers to get their hearing checked annually.
More Advantages to a Quiet Environment
"Noise itself can have an adverse effect on productivity," notes the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. For complex jobs and those requiring concentration, studies show that greater efficiency is linked to lower noise levels.
In addition, the ease and accuracy of communication is improved as noise levels are lowered. Plus, quieter workplaces are generally safer, because workers are able to hear warning signals.
Cost of Not Complying
Failure to heed the OSHA guidelines can lead to an investigation and possibly steep fines and penalties. Here are some examples of manufacturers who learned this lesson first-hand.
1. A Florida food processing facility was investigated for various safety and health violation, including exposing workers to noise hazards. The company received citations in 2017 with proposed penalties of roughly $129,000.
2. OSHA cited a Texas trailer manufacturer in 2011 with multiple violations including failing to "establish and maintain an audio-metric testing program." Proposed penalties for all violations were nearly $950,000. "Audio-metric testing is required when employees are exposed to high noise levels to determine if their hearing is being adversely affected," OSHA stated.
3. In 2018, a Georgia mulch manufacturer was cited for 36 safety and health violations, including exposure to excessive noise levels. The company faces proposed penalties of more than $250,000 for failing to provide enough safeguards for employees at its plant.
"OSHA's hearing conservation standard requires employers to take effective steps to protect the hearing of workers who are exposed to high noise levels," said an OSHA official. "These include annual audiograms for exposed workers, notifying those employees if testing reveals a deterioration in hearing ability and referring them for appropriate medical evaluation, if needed."
For more information about acceptable noise levels, standards and hearing conservation, visit the OSHA's webpage on Occupational Noise Exposure.